Japan’s Necronomidol refer to themselves as an ‘ultra dark idol unit’ but are often classified in the Kawaii Metal genre with bands like Babymetal, Band-Maid or Deadlift Lolita. As diverse as that genre may be, with each Necronomidol release, it’s clear they’re a breed apart and a lap ahead.
For one, while it’s inarguably Metal, there’s not a lot of actual Kawaii in Necronomidol’s music. Whereas Babymetal sing about cookies and ice cream, Necronomidol (or Necroma to their fans) stick to more traditionally metal fare: unknowable cosmic horrors, irreversible madness and blissful surrender to the void. They’ve released an album and several EPs per year since 2016, developing their music from the raw death-rock stylings of Nemesis (2016), through the denser, heavier Deathless (2017) to Voidhymn (2018), a kaleidoscopic consummation of styles, filled to bursting with anthems to the dark elder gods. With songwriting and vocals stronger than ever and a fast-growing international fanbase, Necroma feel like a band in ascent and it’s hard to know where they’ll stop. Somewhere beyond the stars, I imagine. Maybe R’lyeh.
In January 2019, two long-serving fan-favourite members – Hina and Sari – left the band and this latest EP, Scions of the Blasted Heath, represents Necroma’s first release with their replacements, Kunogi and Michelle. Any doubts about the newcomers are silenced immediately, as Scions finds the band in arguably finer form than ever. It’s a collection of five songs that show off most of their signature styles, honed to perfection; a great introduction for the uninitiated that also gives existing fans a reason to keep the faith and continue the blood sacrifices.
Kicking off with a ferocious rumble of drums and trance-like tremolo riffing, EP opener – Salem – is the great black metal song of 2019. Yes, I know it’s only June as I write this but I’m confident about what I’m saying. It’s one of the best black metal songs I’ve heard in years, to be honest, capturing what, for me, is the true spirit of the genre. One thing I’ve loved about black metal was that it rallies against convention. From Bathory and Celtic Frost to Mayhem and Emperor, the best bands shared a will to experiment, to forge their own way down sonic paths to darkness. This maverick creativity was part of what made black metal so mysterious and esoteric. Newer bands that slavishly imitate what their heroes were doing 20 years ago and call it ‘true’ are missing at least part of the point. Salem, on the other hand, grabs the point firmly and uses it to carve a pentagram in the wall.
Relentless percussion and sinister chord progressions support vocals that – while rooted in J-Pop – take on an eerie witch-like quality. The song’s arrangement works in conjunction with lyrical descriptions of being burned at the stake; musical flames rising to a thunderous cacophony before extinguishing in an acoustic finale. The quieter arrangements are reminiscent of early Dissection, with the final line delivered in sing-song harmony over the top (“Avert not your eyes / It will all be over soon / In the palm of my hand / Carrying our dreams / Enveloped in flames / All for you”). It plays almost like a sister song to Darkthrone’s Natassja in Eternal Sleep and damn. It slays.
The rest of the EP can’t quite top Salem but that’s a high bar. There’s not a bad song on here. Phantasmagoria Cosmos is probably the most conventionally Necroma-like song on here, blending Idol pop with Munsters-like organs and grinding guitar while the girls sing lyrics based on Lovecraft’s Colour Out Of Space (“Ominous portents arising / Never to be reversed / Like a kaleidoscope refracting endlessly / Over the rainbow, only the grave”). It’s catchy and high-energy and segues beautifully into The Festival, one of the standouts here. This unleashes another of Necroma’s surprising influences – NWOBHM. With its galloping rhythms and blistering guitars, it brings to mind early Maiden or Demon, and the building vocal harmonies create an atmosphere of joyful submission to the nightmare (“Writhing, winding in the darkness / Led downward, one by one / Hand in hand we’ll run together / Straight into the depths of Hell”).
Children Of The Night – probably the most accessible track on here, in part because it’s sung in English – is an instantly catchy slice of goth-pop with hyperactive keys, majestic guitar shreddage and syrupy vampiric vocals. It’s admittedly the most Kawaii track here (or as Kawaii as you can be with a chorus of “Everything you love now cast into the grave by the children of the night”) but it’s impossible to resist and leads to the EP’s logical conclusion, Lament Configuration. This takes its influences from the 80s, both in its lyrical allusions to The Hellbound Heart and its gigantic synths. It’s built around a keyboard riff that gives Van Halen’s Jump a run for its money and is such an insistent earworm, you’ll need surgery to get it out. The song opens with the line “I shall teach you the true meaning of anguish” and, much like what the cenobites themselves offer, there’s a pleasure to it that you can’t quite deny yourself.
With Scions of the Blasted Heath, Necronomidol have positioned themselves not just at the forefront of Japanese metal but also as a band that can’t be ignored by anyone with a taste for the unique and original. There’s not another band out there making music that sounds like this; something wild and wonderful that blends the immediacy of classic pop songwriting with extreme music and lyrics. Necronomidol defy categorisation and keep you guessing what on earth (or in the many unknown realms that exist alongside it) they will do next.
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